Saturday, July 30, 2011

The New Yankee Stadium: A Concrete Cathedral of Greed

Last night marked my first visit to the new Yankee Stadium, and I’m sorry to say it is exactly the kind of soulless place I expected. It is a concrete cathedral of cupidity and a lousy place to see a baseball game unless you are a millionaire.

The new Yankee Stadium is not a ball park; it’s a large, expensive and poorly-designed imitation of a ball park where fans coming to see a baseball game are an inconvenient afterthought.

I went to the new Yankee Stadium with an open mind, since I was against its very existence. Friends who had been told me good things about it. The seats are bigger and it’s easier to get in and out of it. It’s new and isn’t falling apart.

I wanted to see the new stadium for myself and go to a game again, especially since my favorite Yankee, Jorge Posada, may not be back next year. I’m still glad I went to last night’s game. We lost, but Jorge Posada played well. And the spirit and camaraderie of Yankee fans is not broken. Also Nick Swisher impressed me as someone with good Yankee spirit, as his introduction video, which are staged and lame for most of the team, begins with him greeting the right field bleacher creatures. He played his heart out as well.

Leaving home early, I planned to explore the new place as much as I could and maybe visit Monument Park before the game. Two short subway rides got me to the new stadium in good time.

The new Yankee Stadium makes no pretenses about who it expects to attend games: people coming from out of the city or from other boroughs other than the Bronx. If you’re coming to the new stadium from one of the bars on River Avenue of from a part of the Bronx where people actually live, there is no entrance for you unless you are a police officer or food vendor. All the big gates where fans come in face the parking lots and public train stations. It is good that those entrances are there, but why not have other entrances? If you decide to visit Mullaly Park before going to the game, your view of the stadium is a fenced-in parking garage filled mostly with police vehicles.

Where the real Yankee Stadium used to be is a construction site surrounded by ugly fencing. The famous field that saw so many legendary moments is now at least three baseball diamonds. It’s called Heritage Field now.

Entering the stadium, it is large and roomy and the customer service there on the part of the staff is for the most part excellent. Buying concessions was easy and there were not mobbed bathrooms.

But the stadium is designed with the priority of keeping people from moving from one area to another, which is a part of the game understood by generations of fans (move down until the person with the ticket for that section arrives, then move along). Sections that were once different segments of the same level are now two different levels, and the area closes to home plate is surrounded by the infamous “moat,” a clearly visible barrier that shows the Yankee management’s contempt for the majority of fans.

Last night’s game was delayed by rain for about two hours, and fans got to see firsthand that the stadium has serious drainage issues. In the grandstand’s passage, there were big puddles of water that fans had to tiptoe around. I saw a plastic drain pipe emptying water out right on to the floor. The passageway is somewhat open-air, so if you stood at the concession counter, you were rained on and risked getting your expensive concessions drenched. Smooth concrete stair landings had inches of standing water on them. This is inexcusable in a multi-billion-dollar stadium.

And when you attend a baseball game, you should be able to see the entire field of play from every single seat. From the right field upper deck, one cannot see the right field wall where all of last night’s home runs went. The big screen is partially obstructed also by stairs and railings. Isn’t the entire purpose of going to a baseball game to watch the baseball game? Again, inexcusable in a stadium that is supposed to be state-of-the-art.

The big screen was filled with exciting “news” about the latest overpriced foods available at the stadium, and there was even a commercial for a Yankees-themed children’s cartoon called “Henry & Me,” which features voices of Yankee players as well as owner Hank Steinbrenner, and which I can only imagine is as unwatchable as its commercial. It marks a new low for Yankee management avarice.

It is good that you don’t miss an entire inning of baseball waiting to buy a hot dog, and that the person behind the counter isn’t also using the hot dog fork to pry open the cash register (yes I really saw that at the old Yankee Stadium). But as a place to watch a baseball game, the new Yankee Stadium is a big expensive failure.

The owners of the Yankees are not doing justice to the great heritage of the team. They are quick to hawk nostalgia and make reference to the litany of legendary players that have worn the pinstripes. But the new stadium is an insult to the Yankees’ storied past.

One can dream that if there’s an afterlife, the ghost of Yankee owner George Steinbrenner is being bludgeoned by Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, with Billy Martin standing ready to kick dirt and spit tobacco juice on him.

Baseball is America’s past time because baseball serves as a mirror to the condition of America as a whole, and our condition is not good.

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